A few years ago, we had the opportunity to visit the tunnels at Gallitzin, Pennsylvania, and I wrote about them then. But that was a while back so when we visited there again a few weeks ago, I felt that a little update might be appropriate.
As the Pennsylvania Railroad pushed westward, it ran smack into a wall in the form of the Allegheny Mountain range that basically cut Pennsylvania in two. Pittsburgh was becoming a larger center of commerce due to the river traffic it hosted but those with foresight realized that the canal traffic in the early to mid 1800s would be but a passing fad and that rail would prove to be the dominant mode of transportation in the future... and for a long time to come. But the Alleghenies seemed insurmountable so little progress was made to overcome them.
In the meantime, both the Erie Railroad and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had pushed to the west from the East Coast. The state legislature felt that if Pennsylvania didn't have a through route to the west that these two lines would capture a significant share of traffic and the the growing city of Pittsburgh would be bypassed in favor of better westward routes. So the state invested in a series of inclined trams that allowed freight & passengers to overcome the mountains. But even with this incline in place, the trip from Philadepphia to Pittsburgh took three days. Finally, J. Edgar Thompson, the chief engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad, devised a plan to conquer the Alleghenies once and for all. But the plan languished as senior management was unwilling to commit the funds for such an undertaking. Interestingly, Thompson was able to get around management by becoming the Pennsy's president and he himself authorized the construction of the line over the Alleghenies.
Most all of he work on the line was done by hand by Irish immigrants who were familiar with working in the coal mines of northern Ireland. It is hard to believe that this kind of work was done with picks and shovels, teams of horses and blackpowder explosives. Much of the mine's excavation was done with small mining cars like this one located and on display at Tunnels Park.
While Horseshoe Curve is probably the best know section of railroad track in the world, it was the tunnels at and under the town of Gallitzin that completed the route over the mountains that cut Pennsylvania in half. When train traffic began to travel the newly opened line in the mid 1850s, the trip from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh was shortened from the previous three-day journey to an unthinkable 13 hours! The combination of Horseshoe Curve and the Gallitzin tunnels enabled trains to operate on a manageable 1.8% grade for the climb up the eastern side of the mountains. While this was still considered steep, it became less & less of an issue as locomotives became more and more powerful as time went on.
Today, the tunnels have changed quite a bit. One of the bores has been closed off completely since the second one has been both widened and had its floor lowered to accommodate taller, double-stacked containers. There is also an additional tunnel at the summit which allows for a better flow of rail traffic. Because of this, the tunnel pictured here is primarily used for westbound traffic.
Tunnels Park offers an excellent place to watch trains as they exit the west end of the tunnel under Gallitzin. There is ample parking, shade trees, picnic benches and even restroom facilities there as well as a small museum explaining the significance of the tunnels to the railroad's western movement. All in all, it is a great place to pass an afternoon watching trains roll westward on the Norfolk Southern line.
OK, one final thing about Tunnels Park... is it me or does this photo provide the classic optical illusion? As I stood and looked at the tunnel opening from the street overpass, there is just no way that it looked big enough to accommodate one train let alone two with double-stacked containers. But as you can see from one of the previous photos, there is room for both. Simply amazing...